When I was getting my hair cut last week, a hair stylist a few chairs down got a phone call from her husband. He had just been sent home -- furloughed because of the government shutdown. Her response was gratitude that at least she still had a job.
On Sunday, as I broke the bread during communion at an MCC worship service, I thought of breadwinners, many of whom feel broke and worried. With Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) in 40 countries around the world, our members know that if the United States government is taken into bankruptcy by extremists, the panic over unpaid mortgages, tuition, groceries, taxes and more could go global.
I wondered if it was panic that sent a woman apparently struggling with mental illness over the edge to use her car as a weapon -- and end up dead at the hands of unpaid police. Her year-old infant survived, but the child's life will never be the same.
Later that day, I heard from staff from the White House Faith Council to let us all know that they were headed home. One key staff person was so committed to the work she gave us her personal email.
The next day, my wife Paula and I were scheduled to fly. We wondered if there would be adequate airline safety and security. We arrived, and we noticed almost no difference -- but we knew that it was different for them. Paula remembered to thank each of the TSA personnel who were putting us through our security paces. They were all working and not being paid.
That is just wrong.
This shutdown is political brinksmanship that places everything that is good about this country on the chopping block. Seventeen years ago -- a generation -- was the last time a full government shutdown was used as a maneuver to get around the constitutional practice of voting on legislation. That time, Newt Gingrich organized conservatives to put a stranglehold on the country and the economy.
Today, political hardliners seem more callous than ever. They act like they would rather there be no government than a government that implements a legally voted piece of legislation -- the Affordable Care Act. It is sobering to realize that long before Obama's health plan was passed, extremists were planning on shutting down the government.
Rachel Maddow documented statements going back to September 2010, when Alaska conservative Joe Miller talked about "starving the beast" and "[we] have the courage to shut down the government if we have to." Just a few weeks before the 2010 elections, Congressman Lynn Westmoreland made a similar threat/promise: "If we say look, the American people we're listening to the American people, this is what we're going to do. If government shuts down, we want you with us."
Since the mid-term election, extremists in the House of Representatives attempted to shut down the government six times but lost each vote until they were finally able to force the hand of people who knew better but just couldn't or wouldn't stop them.
This is a human made national disaster. The price is high -- families, the economy, the stress, the unmet human needs, unmonitored foods and drugs, soldiers and veterans in limbo, deteriorating and unused national parks. The Washington Post provided "everything you need to know" about the government shutdown. It's not pretty.
Where will it end? We hear rumblings that the debt ceiling will be the next battle which may leave the government shut down and even in default. These are battles for control that are all about end runs around normal legislative action. And where there are battles, there is always collateral damage. In this case, the collateral damage is the country itself -- We the People.
We recognize "We the People" from our country's founding documents, but as a pastor and head of a global denomination, our founding document is the Bible. Since many, if not all, of the extremists in Congress claim Christianity as their faith, I urge them to remember the story of Lazarus which Jesus told to the wealthy and powerful of his day. (Luke 16:19-31)
A rich man had ignored Lazarus, a poor and diseased man who had been dumped at his door. They both died. The rich man went to hell, and the poor man was comforted by angels. The rich man saw the error of his ways, but it was too late. He even wanted God to send Lazarus to warn his brothers to do better -- but again, it was too late.
There are hundreds of texts in the Bible telling people not to be greedy and self-serving. The core message of Christianity is to serve others. If Jesus were walking the earth today, I imagine he would urge our leaders to move beyond shutdowns and lockdowns.
Today, we all need to speak out! We need to pray for wisdom! In the name of all that is good, it is time now for the extremists to stand down so everyday people -- the hairdresser, the cop, the forestry worker, the world -- can stand up and get back to work to create a world that works for everyone -- not just the rich.